Dark clouds hovered over the Tuscan island of Giglio less than 24 hours from the refloating of the stricken Costa Concordia cruise liner. Experts who devised one of the largest, most expensive and most daunting salvage operation in history are confident the operation will be successful.
The Concordia struck a rock and capsized on Jan. 13, 2012, after captain Francesco Schettino allegedly drove it on an unauthorized route too close to shore, ripping a huge gash in the hull. The ship claimed 32 lives as it tumbled onto its side with more than 4,200 people aboard.
A bronze plaque at the end of Giglio's jetty lists the names of the 32 people who died in the disaster. The list includes the two missing bodies that are most likely still trapped inside the ship.
Nearly two years after the disaster, the liner is now covered by watertight boxes, or caissons, while 56 chains, each weighing about 26 tons, wrap it.
Only the stern and bow are easily recognizable. The blue words "Costa Concordia" are still visible amid rust dripping like blood on the hull.
Parbuckling is the technical term for the process of rotating a sunken ship and returning it upright. In the 19th century a "parbuckle," or sling, was used to raise or lower a barrel by passing a doubled rope around it. Parbuckling the 114,500-ton Concordia is a very different matter: It will entail rotating the wreck by 65 degrees.
During the procedure, the whole system will exert a force of about 23,800 tons to rotate the wreck. "It is an operation that has never been attempted before. Once started, there is no going back," Franco Gabrielli, head of the civil protection agency, said.
After rotating the wreck 0.15 degrees, Nick Sloane, a South-African salvage master hired to lead the removal operation, said, "It has been enough to confirm that the ship can be rotated."
The unique engineering feat boasts colossal numbers. Over 500 people of 26 nationalities have worked on the project. Some 30,000 tons of steel -- four times the weight of the Eiffel Tower -- have been used. Installed on the bow to provide stability, two massive dark grey tanks, known as the "blister sisters" weigh about 1,700 tons -- seven and half times the weight of the Statue of Liberty.
If the project succeeds, the Costa Concordia will be towed to an Italian port for dismantling in spring 2014. Then, the only physical memory from the ship in Giglio will be a plaster statue of the Madonna which was recovered last year from the cruise liner's chapel by fire department divers. It now stands in the church of San Lorenzo and Mamiliano, which was the immediate refuge for survivors on the night of the tragedy.
The Concordia on its final night resting on the rocky shore.